LIEUSAINT— To get there, the two teams that faced off Sunday in the French Summer League (FSL) championship game — the La Rochelle Boucaniers and Toulouse Tigers — first spent several weekends playing the part of schoolyard bullies.
Not that it was their fault. Blowouts were an inevitability in the mixed-level, late-summer tournament, which the Fédération Française de Baseball et Softball scrambled to organize as a replacement of sorts for the lost elite- (D1) and second-division (D2) seasons.
Of all the clubs in the 11-team competition, none took advantage of the mismatches more than La Rochelle and Toulouse. Together, they came into this weekend’s Final Four round — which also featured Paris UC and Nice Cavigal — having outscored their second-tier opponents by a ridiculous 135-to-18!
“After a while, winning every game by a score of like 10-zip, it got to a be a little…,” one of the players admitted.
But from the moment the first pitch was thrown in Saturday’s semi-final games, any notion that this wasn’t un vrai championat — that it wasn’t a legitimate, serious baseball event — was suddenly out the window.
All four clubs came not just to play, but to win. Tensions were high, with tempers flaring at moments. And after each game, the raw emotions — the pure joy of the winners, the frustration etched on the faces of the losers — were as real as it gets.
“A lot of us thought we wouldn’t be able to a play at all this year, but thanks to God, here we are,” Nice Cavigal star Jonathan Montas, who collected four RBIs over the weekend and went five solid innings on the mound yesterday, told Le Baseblog after beating Paris UC to take third place in the tournament.
“As players, we never had the mentality that it wasn’t a real competition,” the Dominican added. “Some of the fans maybe thought so. They said there weren’t enough games, because of COVID-19. But for us it was a good season, especially for the four teams that qualified [for the championship round].”
Lock-down pitching, defense
That dedication was reflected in the level of play as well, especially in the Sunday afternoon title game, in which pitcher Rayner Oliveros of Venezuela threw an absolute gem.
The former Kansas City Royals prospect pitched all seven innings, striking out nine and allowing just two hits to help the Boucaniers win the FSL championship with a perfect 8-0 record.
Oliveros earned a well-deserved MVP nod for his efforts but can also thank his La Rochelle teammates for yet another stellar defensive performance. The position players were equally sharp in the previous day’s narrow (2-1) win over Paris UC.
Credit to Stade Toulouain as well. The Tigers fought tooth and nail, and thanks to an impressive outing by their own starting pitcher, Franklin De La Rosa, kept the Boucaniers scoreless until the fifth inning.
That’s when the fleet-footed Maxence Esteban scored the game’s only run on an RBI-triple by Lucas Collet. De La Rosa pitched six innings, giving up five hits and striking out eight.
“For me, this was a real championship,” said La Rochelle right-hander Pablo Ossandon, who coached the Boucaniers on Sunday after leading them to victory as the starting pitcher the day before. “We let it all out there on the field. And that’s why we got the result we got.”